July 31, 2007

simple shoes

I made a joke with a friend not that long ago about how before you know it, I'll be wearing hemp shoes. Well, seems the time has come. Today at the Whole Foods I saw some cute mary janes made by Simple. My interest was peaked by the display which described all the eco-friendly materials used to construct the shoes. I had always been under the impression that shoes are made of many undesirable chemicals and materials and that there wasn't much one could do about it.

Hooray for companies that are trying! My new shoes may not be your style, but for my current low-key-mom lifestyle they'll do just fine. Carpool, playground, grocery, here I come! I don't expect my Manolo wearing buddy in NY to be sporting these anytime soon (you know who you are.)

This particular pair from Simple is called the Women's GT Jane and is made from Jute rand (Jute is a sustainable material), bamboo, and recycled tires. Technically, you can even call this shoe vegan. And it is pretty darn comfortable!

I know there are other shoe lines with an eco-friendly product. I hope to highlight them soon, as well. If you know of some, please share a comment.

July 30, 2007

toxins in san francisco bay

I found an article on the Environmental Working Group's website about undesirable chemicals found in the water of San Francisco Bay. It served as a reminder to me about why I am bothering to avoid phalates, bisphenol A and triclosan. All three of these chemicals are hormone disruptors that are unregulated and widely used.

The phalates and bisphenol A can be found leeching from certain plastics (read my earlier post on kid plastics). I knew it was a good idea for my family not to ingest them, if possible. But what this article highlights is how these chemicals are now appearing in our environments. When this happens, wildlife (such as fish) are affected. How these effects will shake-out down the food-chain is still unknown.

Unfortunately, it seems that wastewater treatment does not remove these chemicals from the water. So when the chemicals are used in residential, commercial or industrial areas, they will ultimately end up in the environment. Experts say that it is more realistic and possible to curb the use of the chemicals rather than try to advance the cleansing treatment of the wastewater.

The article states,

"Choices you make at home and on the job to reduce your exposure to hormone disruptors can reduce the impact of these chemicals on wildlife in San Francisco Bay. For example, by making informed choices when you buy everyday products, from shampoo and toothpaste to laundry detergent and even canned food, you can help protect the environment, without breaking the bank. This report provides detailed findings from our study, and presents tips to help you reduce your use of hormone-disrupting chemicals and better protect the Bay."

"Of course, ultimately, we need to fix our system of chemical regulations. The law establishing U.S. regulation of chemicals was created over three decades ago, and has not been revised since, despite significant advances in our understanding of the impacts of a variety of chemicals to ecological and human health. Of particular relevance, U.S. chemical regulations were created before the body of scientific evidence on hormone-disrupting chemicals was established and, therefore, are not designed to identify and act against substances with these properties. In the absence of federal action, local and state leaders have brought special attention to the critical ecological and public health problem of hormone disruption caused by man-made chemicals."

I personally am not optimistic about the goverment fixing these problems in time. I think a much more powerful avenue is by consumers demanding change and putting their money with products and companies who make an effort to offer safe alternatives.

It is a great reminder and reinforcement to know that avoiding these chemicals is not just important to our personal health. It is part of a much bigger picture, from which we can all benefit.

Please read the original article for more information about the study, chemicals found, and what you can do.

July 29, 2007

petroleum based products

As I've been making an effort to green our home and life, I find myself wanting to avoid plastics and other petroleum based products where possible.

First I cleared them out of the tupperware drawer and switched to glass. Sippy cups switched to metal. I also reduced my use of plastic bags. I even find myself wanting to choose more natural toys and less plastic for my kids. Part of this last choice was due to concerns about leeching. The list goes on.

In addition to plastics, I have tried to clean out our personal care products containing petroleum (vaseline, lip glosses, lots of body care products - including feminine care products and disposable diapers).

While I knew petroleum was "bad", I often forgot why exactly. That's why I was glad to stumble upon this short list from a Treehugger post on bioplastics.

". . . the reasons why oil sucks:
1. We will eventually run out of it
2. When we burn it, it creates CO2
3. When we throw away petro-plastic, it pretty much never biodegrades and can harm wildlife
4. Refining oil is energy intensive and produces toxic chemicals
5. We often have to import it from places with unstable politics"

I know there are uses for plastics which make lots of sense. For instance, after surgery in a hospital you won't find me demanding non-plastic IV tubes or catheters! That said, I'll continue to think twice about using it in other daily situations where perhaps there is another perfectly good substitute.

And for the record, we do love Legos and Playmobil. You definately find plastic in our home. I'm just questioning each use more thoughtfully.

July 26, 2007

creative reuse

Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Lately, we've been trying to improve our reuse.

Before our large cardboard boxes head for recycling (or composting) my husband turns them into amazing toys. and you know how much kids love playing in cardboard boxes!!

Granted, the reuse in this case only extends the cardboard's life in our home for a few weeks. but we have lots of fun with them during that time!

These pictures show an awesome boat and a car ramp we are currently playing with. You should know that I'm not tooting my own horn here - I had absolutely nothing to do with these projects! Full credit to my husband.

July 25, 2007

water shortage

Many regions are experiencing a drought this summer. Conserving water is always a good idea, but it is especially important when resources are low. Here in Northern California the water levels are low because there was not much snow in the mountains last winter.

You can view droughts across the country at the National Climatic Data Center's website. According to them, "severe to extreme drought affected about 17 percent of the contiguous United States as of the end of March 2007."

There are lots of things you can do to save water - far too many for me to list here. I found some great lists at the Water Use it Wisely and American Water websites.

When you have young kids, one place to consider saving water is the tub. A full tub can hold 40-60 gallons. It would be ideal to use 20 gallons or less (or one third of the tub). Also, place the stopper in the tub before turning on the water. The cold water that runs first can be adjusted with hot as it fills. And of course, it is great to bathe young children together.

My kids take a bath nightly as part of their bedtime ritual. But if we have had a particularly mellow day (where no one is covered in dirt, slime, food or sweat) I'll let them skip the bath. They think they are getting away with something and we save some water. Win win! They still have to brush their teeth, though.

July 24, 2007

lights out

A funny thing from my day:

Today in Whole Foods there was a power outage. The lights went out suddenly and someone was heard saying, "We finally did it! We used up all the electricity!"

Ha ha. That's green humor for ya.

The power outage wasn't just at the grocery. Read more.

July 23, 2007

lettus cafe

Today I went to my favorite cafe in San Francisco, Lettus. I love their food and that it is mostly organic and local. They offer a great selection (for kids and adults) which is as nutritious as it is tasty. My kids are fans of their Kid's Grazer Plate (apple, carrot, celery, raisins & sliced cheddar cheese or almond butter) for $5.

Their website has lots of information about the cafe (menu, location, etc.) The website also says why eating organic is important:

"Tastes Great
Organic and locally farmed produce is usually picked when it’s ripe and at its peak flavor and nutritional value. Rich soil, farmed without the use of artificial pesticides, produces healthy plants that taste fantastic.

It’s Healthy
Fresh organic foods contain more vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other micronutrients than intensively farmed produce.

High Standards
Organic certification ensures that food has been grown and handled carefully to avoid the use of unwanted chemicals.

Free from Additives
Eating organic ensures you’re getting food free of antibiotics, growth hormones and genetically engineered products.

Good for the Earth
Organic soil practices protect our water resources by avoiding nitrogen-leaching fertilizers and polluting chemicals. Organic agriculture helps prevent these chemicals from getting into the air, earth and water.

Sustainable Agriculture
Sustainable farming provides a secure living for farm families; maintains the natural environment and resources; supports the rural community; and offers respect and fair treatment to all involved, from farm workers to consumers to the animals raised for food."

Do you have a favorite eatery that serves local, sustainable organic food? Let me know and we can start a listing of places around the globe!

July 22, 2007

greening the birthday party

My little guy had his birthday this weekend. I tried my best to improve my approach to the typical kid party. I was more green than I used to be, but nowhere near perfect.

We had just a few friends celebrate with us at a local playground. It was morning, so we served bagels, fruit, coffee, juice, water and cupcakes.

The things I did to try to be more green were:
  • had a big compost bag to collect used paper goods and food scraps
  • used recycled paper napkins (not cute party ones)
  • used biodegradable plates made from sugarcane
  • served drinks from large containers in compostable paper cups (no juice boxes)
  • used a marker to write names on the cups in hopes of reducing quantity
  • chose a durable, reusable party favor (found cute little lunch containers at the Daiso store and put a homemade cookie inside)
  • reused the '3' birthday candle we saved from previous use
  • made organic cupcakes
  • reused large, heavy paper from a project to be table covers on the picnic tables
There were other things I could have done, but didn't. For instance:
  • online invitations
  • beeswax birthday candles (regular candles are often a petroleum based product)
  • brought cloth napkins and 'real' plates and dishes
  • brought cloth table covers (wouldn't need to be fancy - just reusable)
Things I did knowing they were not green, but was desperate:
  • bought a mylar balloon to decorate
  • also decorated with some streamers, but they are old rolls that have lasted us years and are still not used up!
  • bought store cupcakes in plastic containers after the organic ones I baked failed miserably (I baked them in ice cream cones to be cute, but the cones fell apart in the oven)
  • offered Wet Ones wipes to help keep hands clean
  • took plastic bags at the store to carry my cold, heavy bags of ice to the car
The kids had a great time and no one thought the paperware was unfestive. Almost everything we served was compostable, so that was very easy. A happy birthday overall.

July 20, 2007

composting links

Sorry I've missed posting for a few days. I do have lots of ideas brewing for posts, but haven't had a chance to write them (little guy has been waking up at night since he's under the weather).

In the meantime, I saw two great posts on other blogs about composting. Since I haven't had a chance to cover the topic it seems a good place to start researching. Take a look!

Treehugger has a good article on the basics of composting and No Impact Man has information about the worm bin in his NY apartment.

image from treehugger

July 17, 2007

clogged drain

I haven't had a chance to write about safe cleaning products yet. I've been looking into ways to clean without toxic chemicals. It is a huge topic, so perhaps I'll start with an issue that is of some urgency in my house at the moment: a slow drain.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess that standard drain cleaners are dangerous to people and the environment. They are poisonous and can cause severe damage on your skin. They contain lye which is very corrosive. Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home suggests, "if you change only one cleaning product in your home, this is it."

After consulting her book as well as my copy of Clean and Green, I decided to try a mixture of baking soda and vinegar. Both books suggest 1/2 cup of each poured into the drain. After resting 15 minutes, flush with hot top water.

I did as instructed and it seems to have worked! The water is flowing down the drain more rapidly. It was a litle tricky to get all that baking soda through the small holes in my sink drain (why did we choose that anyway?) but the vinegar bubbled its way through.

Granted, this was not a huge clog. In that case it is advised to try a plunger or use a drain snake (if you don't know what that is, call a plumber!)

July 16, 2007


One great way to do that "reuse" part of the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra is by participating in Freecycle.

Freecycle is a network of people around the world who are giving (and receiving) free items. The website says, "The Freecycle Network was started in May 2003 to promote waste reduction in Tucson's downtown and help save desert landscape from being taken over by landfills. The Network provides individuals and non-profits an electronic forum to "recycle" unwanted items. One person's trash can truly be another's treasure!

Freecycle is a grassroots, non-profit movement. It is free to sign up. If you cannot find a group in your region on the website, you can start a new group!

It works like this:

"When you want to find a new home for something -- whether it's a chair, a fax machine, piano, or an old door -- you simply send an e-mail offering it to members of the local Freecycle group. Or, maybe you're looking to acquire something yourself. Simply respond to a member's offer, and you just might get it. After that, it's up to the giver to decide who receives the gift and to set up a pickup time for passing on the treasure. Our main rule: Everything posted must be free, legal, and appropriate for all ages."

The Freecycle Network offers "furniture, clothing, appliances, computers, old windows, possible art supplies and all the little things in between."

July 15, 2007

san francisco composting

You've heard me brag about our city-wide curbside composting. It is such a cool program, I thought I'd share the details. Who knows - maybe this will help other communities start a program or encourage people to compost on their own. I'll try to do a post soon on do-it-yourself compost (although I haven't done that myself!)

San Francisco gives each home 3 bins. Blue is for all recyclables (and we can recycle loads of plastics, glass, metals and papers), Black is for trash and green is for compost. Since we've been using the green bin we have reduced our black bin contents tremendously.

The thing about San Francisco compost that is unique (besides the fact that they pick it up from you) is that it accepts meat scraps. I don't know how they process it into compost exactly, but I do know that lots of local farmers and vineyards are using it. It is making a great, local, full-circle story.

July 12, 2007

fun in the sun

If you're still as confused as I am about which sunscreens to use (or not to use) you can take comfort in sun protective clothing!

There are lots of brands offering both clothes and swimwear with SPF protection. I happen to like Coolibar, mostly because they have simple designs in a range of garments for the whole family. Coolibar clothes have titanium dioxide threads woven into the fabric.

I chose swim shirts and shorts for my boys (plus big hats). They find them very comfortable. I think they like looking like little surfers. My husband even wants a set now!

Of course we still put sunscreen on exposed areas.

My pal Lisa sent me an article from Newsweek (June 11th) that covered Coolibar as well as an alternative product called Sun Guard. Apparently you can add it to your laundry to "treat cotton, linen and silk with a UV absorbing substance." Might be a good resource if you already have favorite garments that you wish could be converted to sun protective gear!

July 11, 2007

g diapers

My kids are no longer in diapers, but if they were I'd definitely give gDiapers a try. Admittedly, I am swayed by the adorable covers they offer, but I am sold on their environmental ingenuity. They call themselves the hybrid of diapers: not disposable, not cloth.

The Natural Resources Defense Council even says, "gDiapers seem to have the environmental edge over more conventional choices because they send no material to the landfill, use no elemental chlorine or plastics, and require much less washing (therefore, less water and energy usage) than regular cloth diapers."

And to really vouch for their environmental considerations, gDiapers was the first consumer packaged product to receive prestigious ‘Cradle to Cradle’ Certification. (Cradle to Cradle is a must-read book by William McDonough and Michael Braungart). The certification supports what McDonough and Braungart call the “new industrial revolution,” a design paradigm that seeks to transform human industry through ecologically intelligent design. The gDiapers website says, "That means everything that goes into one of our flushables gets re-absorbed back into the eco-system in a neutral or beneficial way. So you are turning waste into a resource. At the same time, you are putting poop in the toilet, where it belongs, and avoiding the landfill issue all together." As you can tell, that certification holds a lot of merit for me.

So how do these diapers work exactly? They have a flushable liner which snaps into adorable little "g-pants." I'm sold just on the styling alone! They look so much more comfortable than a plastic diaper.

The gDiapers website has loads of really great information in a simple, easy to grasp style. Check out their page on the "great diaper debate" which compares disposables, cloth and flushables.

Here are some other facts from their site:

- gDiapers have no elemental chlorine, no perfumes, no smell, no garbage and no guilt. In fact, flushables are so gentle on the Earth you can even garden compost the wet ones in one compost cycle, approximately 50 – 150 days

- gDiapers are breathable. Plastic-free flushable refills keep babies dry and happy, so they’re less likely to get diaper rash

- Last year alone, 18-23 billion diapers went into landfills across America. That works out to be approximately 38,000 every minute and adds up to about 3.5 million tons of waste

- a disposable diaper can take up to 500 years to biodegrade in a landfill

I know there are other types of diaper alternatives out there, and I'll write about them soon also. If you've used gDiapers please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

And for the record, I'm in no way affliated with this or any other company. I don't get paid to write anything on this blog and I don't accept advertising.

July 10, 2007

made in china

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to crafting a post about goods from China. We've all heard about the various recent scares regarding imported items from China, whether cough syrup, dog food, seafood, juice, toothpaste or trains. (Veggie Booty, anyone?)

I had just read a good overview of the topic from the BBC website which highlighted the complexities of government agency oversight of these imported goods (namely how tricky it is for the US government to catch everything).

But my next search is what really threw me and compelled me to put the post up right away. I searched the New York Times and saw, "China Executes Former Drug Regulator."

Wow. That's serious.

The executed official was Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration. It seems he permitted many drugs to go to market without proper applications by accepting bribes. One of these drugs caused 10 people in China to die.

However, the implications are staggering. China is clearly sending a message. The New York Times states,

"Mr. Zheng’s case appears to have served a political purpose, allowing senior leaders to show that they have begun confronting the country’s poor product safety record. Shoddy or dangerous goods, including toothpaste, pet food ingredients, toys and car tires, have damaged its reputation abroad, especially in the United States.

China is the world’s largest exporter of consumer products, and tainted goods represent a small fraction of the country’s more than $1 trillion in annual exports. But officials clearly worry that protectionist forces in the United States could use the spate of quality problems to restrict trade.

At the same time Mr. Zheng was executed, representatives of the country’s leading food and drug regulatory bodies held a joint press conference to emphasize their determination to crack down on fake and counterfeit food and medicine.

After weeks denying serious problems or blaming foreign forces for exaggerating the issue, officials have recently begun to strike a less defensive tone. One senior official acknowledged that the food and drug safety network still allowed too many unsafe goods to slip through, and said that at the moment the trend “is not promising.” "

Again, wow.

It would be easy to say I'll try to avoid goods imported from China, but it is impossible to know what ingredients have been sourced from there. I have a friend who has started contacting companies of products she uses to see if they use any ingredients form China (she's called her toothpaste company and the company that makes her flour).

And aside from avoiding dangerous ingredients, it makes you think about global communities: our differences and similarities.

July 9, 2007

fun with fairy houses

Here's something fun for a summer day: fairy houses! Surely this is a green activity.

Inspired by the fairy houses on an island of the coast of Maine, the books by Tracy Kane have been a huge success.

Fairyhouses.com says, "Fairy Houses are small structures made for the fairies to visit. Sticks, bark, dry grasses, pebbles, shells, feathers, seaweed, pinecones and nuts are just some of the natural materials used." But you must follow the rules of the forest:

1. Fairy Houses should look so natural they are almost hidden. A location close to the ground is best.

2. You should use only natural materials. Dry grasses, leaves, sticks, pebbles and pinecones are just a few examples of materials to choose.

3. Be careful not to use or disturb any of nature's materials that are still living, especially flowers, ferns, mosses and lichen. Fairies do not like to disturb or destroy anything that is growing in nature.

You can build them anywhere in any season. They can be simple or elaborate, with little tables and chairs or decorative walkways. It is a fun, creative way to play imaginatively outside. In my experience, both boys and girls enjoy building them.

And if you get really into it, you can check out the 2007 Annual Fairy House Festival in Portsmouth, NH on September 22 & 23rd. It consists of a self-guided walking tour of Fairy Houses displayed in the historic South End neighborhood of Portsmouth. There are many fancy fairy houses to view on the tour, or you can build your own.

July 8, 2007

make me sustainable

Green social networking.

Huh? This is a test of how up on things you are. Or down with things. Hmm, maybe I'm failing already. My cool sources tell me that social networking is all the rage. MySpace and Facebook are popular with the kids. (I even know one for us parents called, Maya's Mom). Now there is a new network in town, and it has a green twist.

Make Me Sustainable is a website full of excellent tools and resources to help you reduce your environmental impact and also meet other people doing the same. You can take a tour on the website which shows you how to sign up, set up a profile page, and use their Carbon and Energy Portfolio Manager which enables you to measure your impact and find ways to reduce it. In addition, the community aspect is "a forum for discussion, a means for disseminating information on sustainable living and a virtual space to network with other concerned individuals and businesses on a local, regional and national scale."

I read on treehugger that the founders think that the emphasis on bottom-up, grassroots-level empowerment is key. It is geared to enable both individuals and communities.

Finally, social networking for me! See you there?

July 5, 2007

green denim

Eco-fashion (eco-everything) is all the rage right now. As people examine how to green their lives, all aspects are under scrutiny. As a busy mom, there is one aspect I am quite familiar with: jeans. Jeans are an important part of my daily uniform. Dress them up or down, wear them in the sandbox or out for drinks on a "moms night out." Most women would agree that selecting jeans is no simple thing. Finding the right comfort, fit and style is a big deal - whether you're shopping at Bloomingdale's or Old Navy.

I have done some searching into the world of eco-denim. Eco-denim is worth considering for a few reasons. Using organic cotton is the first step in eco denim. Cotton uses more pesticides and fertilizers than any other crop. The Del Forte website says, "It takes 2/3 of a pound of pesticides to make one pair of jeans! Conventional cotton accounts for 10% of global pesticide use. The EPA says that conventional agriculture is responsible for 70% of all problems in U.S. rivers and streams." The washing processes that make jeans soft and "broken in" are also important to consider for environmental impact.

It's no surprise that most of the eco-denim jeans seem to fall into the premium denim category. FiftyRx3 (a blog) did a great review of many eco-denim brands, including Del Forte, Kuyichi, Arne & Carlos, Linda Loudermilk, Serfontaine, Levi's and Loomstate. I've noticed that some brands go beyond the product to work with either the agriculture aspect or the production in an effort to improve environmental impacts.

These stylish brands are not cheap, however. Maybe I'll treat myself to a pair if I ever loose all the baby weight!

Image above is the "maiden" cut from Loomstate

July 3, 2007

maggie's soap nuts

Reader Debbie (okay, yes, she's my sister) sent in this great tip to me. We have not tried the product but think it is so unique that it is worth exploring.

From the product's website:
"Maggie’s Soap Nuts are the only laundry soap that grows on trees!
Truly effective, 100% natural and safe for your most sensitive skin.
Soap Nuts are the dried fruit of the Chinese Soapberry tree.
They contain saponin, a natural cleaner used for thousands of
years to clean clothes, just like the plants used by Native Americans
for washing.

Simply put a few Soap Nuts into the included cotton sack and drop
it in your laundry. Your clothes come out clean, vibrant, and soft.
Replace your laboratory detergents and softeners with the soap
made from Nature by Nature. Your clothes, your skin, your family,
and your planet will thank you."

The website also explains how to use them and other FAQs. After washing with the nuts you can compost them. I think they sound very interesting and want to try them just to see how they work. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes!

July 2, 2007

celery furniture

Even the name sounds healthy. I came across this line of baby and kid furniture and found it intriquing.

Celery creates simple, modern furniture for babies and kids. Their unique designs require no hardware.

They also give consideration to the environment by using, "bamboo with non-toxic adhesives, and 100% recycled formaldehyde-free medium density fiberboard combined with zero to low-VOC finishes affirm our commitment to lasting and eco-friendly materials for all our furniture."

Their website mentions that a line of grown-up furniture is planned as well.

July 1, 2007

organic coffee trick

While shopping at Whole Foods recently I spotted this cool coffee package. Not only is the coffee itself a eco-friendly choice, but the packaging is as well. I'm always a sucker for a pretty package (and I needed coffee anyway).

The package seemed completely compostable, with no glues or plastic linings whatsoever. The package said, "the package material was made from handmade paper produced by EARTH's University and Jireh from banana stems and recycled paper. Jireh is a two woman micro-enterprise located in one of the rural communities bordering EARTH's campus. EARTH university is dedicated to advanced education and sustainable agriculture in the tropics."

Yes, I know coffee has to be shipped a tremendous distance and that does not make it "local." However, I love, love, love drinking coffee and think that would be hard to give up. If you are like me and are determined to keep drinking coffee no matter how many healthy people say you shouldn't, the best option is to buy fair-trade, organic coffee which is shade grown. This particluar pacakge of coffee contains Allegro's first Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee, which means it was processed using environmentally sustainable growing practices and safe labor conditions.

Now if that isn't a feel-good way to start your day, I don't know what is. But here's where my story takes its turn.

The next morning I opened up my cool coffee package and inside the pretty, handmade, compostable paper bag there was a typical plastic coffee bag containing the coffee grounds! LAME!

Not only does that seem incedibly decipetful to me, it is so wasteful. In addtion to the typical bag they have added the banana paper sack and the paper band (printed 4 colors, mind you) and a metal clasp. What a huge addition of waste and energy!

I feel like such a sucker for falling for it. I really had thought it was a clever, original packaging idea. You can bet I'm going to send a letter to Allegro letting them know how dissapointed I am with their marketing trick. Just goes to show that all this 'going green' stuff is never black and white.